04/13/2018 by Carney Sandoe Staff | The Schoolroom
School of Poetry
We don’t need an excuse to read poetry, of course. But given that April is National Poetry Month, we thought we’d share an education-related poem by one of our regular bloggers, Michael Brosnan, former editor of Independent School magazine.
Many of our readers know Michael through the magazine, but he has also been writing and publishing poetry steadily over the years. In December 2017, he published his first collection, The Sovereignty of the Accidental (Harbor Mountain Press). About the book, poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes, “A stunning book…. Poems which stir language, memory, momentary intense awareness, to give us back the bracing joy of clear thinking…. How can there be so much potent magic in a single stanza or phrase? It’s as if he found the pulse of poetry.”
Here’s one of his poems, published in Ibbetson Street a few years back, that examines the fine art of teacher comments. It’s posted here with permission.
The Preliminary Rounds
As your son’s teacher, I’m supposed to tell you something
about his development in school,
his understanding of Ancient History,
but I don’t know what to say exactly,
except the obvious: the rope has slipped his grasp
and his boat has drifted back into that soft fog of adolescence.
He began the semester with a soupçon of interest —
taken by Hannibal, and those militant elephants stumbling
across the Alps and Pyrenees in the Second Punic War,
but by test time he quietly faded away
as if his interest were drawn in chalk,
and nothing we did or said reignited that spark.
I don’t know, maybe he’d be better off
playing his guitar until his fingers ache beyond sore,
chord by homemade chord, swim in his own art
late into the night and come to the study of history —
and all that history reveals about our impulses, our violence,
our frailty, our intermittent brilliance — in his own time.
Or perhaps this class is too stifling — dulled, as it is,
by the need for order and pace, by the hammering of “rigor.”
Perhaps he would open up if we took to the fields more,
or the mountains and lakes, or the lovely indifferent shore.
There, maybe, he’d be our leader, first to find sharks’ teeth
among the stones and shattered, sea-worn shells,
pose questions fueled by unguarded enthusiasm for life.
Not that we venture out like that in this course. I’m just saying,
you never know with kids. That’s the maddening part.
You fall in love with a young man’s mind, praise him
with straight A’s, and twenty years later he’s drinking too much,
starting his third marriage and his fourth job in corporate sales.
It’s the ones who hum along in their own dreams,
who intuitively know how to get by, like runners
surviving the preliminary rounds to make the finals —
they’re the ones who burst forth one day, publish a book,
land a role on Broadway, establish some small quirky company
that blooms overnight into the darling of Wall Street.
But it doesn’t always work that way, either.
Sometimes the ones who sail through keep on sailing —
good grades, good jobs, loving spouses, brilliant children,
content Saturday afternoons in the garden of good fortune,
no curse or cancer surfacing anywhere.
And sometimes the slackers stay slack.
They don’t care now and they won’t care later.
What happens is what happens. Time is time.
Love is to take or leave, or take and take.
So what does this say about the teaching profession?
Despite all the cajoling, pop quizzes, free pencils, the truth is
I don’t know the first thing about your son. Do you?
Maybe the transparency of our own uncertainty
has left him stupefied. Maybe he already knows
what he wants to be when he awakens to the searing
knowledge of impermanence. Maybe he’s waiting
for fate to trigger any sort of something. Maybe
he’s already there, patiently waiting for us to catch up.
— Michael Brosnan
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